Europe must address its social debt
Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, General Secretary of Spanish trade union confederation CCOO and current President of the European Trade Union Confederation, contributed the following article to the Morning Star this week ahead of the European Council meeting on Thursday and demonstrations in London and Rome on Saturday.
The debt crisis and how to get out of it is being discussed everywhere. But a social debt is opening up which is just as important as the monetary debt.
Programmes imposed on countries in difficulty have concentrated on cuts affecting the most vulnerable, on diminishing social protection and on weakening collective bargaining. The situation facing young people is especially unbearable. With unemployment rates close to or over 50 percent in Spain and Greece, precarious working conditions for the young are on the rise everywhere.
Governments and bankers across Europe are engaged in a systematic attempt to dismantle the social model which has made Europe home to advanced democracies and reduced social inequalities.
We are seeing the creation of unacceptable free trade zones in southern Europe, competing with and undermining the rest. What is now being done to workers in Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain will sooner or later come back to haunt workers in Germany and Scandinavia who have so far been better-off.
Austerity is not only creating a social emergency. It is also spectacularly failing on its own terms – it does not tackle excessive debt burdens, nor does it restore market confidence. Instead, austerity further weakens public finances.
Even if Greece or Spain were to run a zero deficit, the debt ratio would still explode because of the collapse of their GDP and economic activity exacerbated by unsustainable interest rates imposed to meet the expectations of the financial markets.
Casino capitalism is at the root of the problems we face. The system has failed. But capital does not feel challenged and its operation is still protected. Banks manipulate interest rates in cosy offices, while governments make the people pay.
The troika – the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – still call for structural reforms to make workers’ rights ‘more flexible’, for cuts in wages, pensions and benefits which will only increase inequality, hold back growth, and maximize misery.
European unions are arguing for a change of course – a sustainable route beyond the crisis and the reconstruction of mechanisms like collective bargaining to reduce inequality and to reverse the tendency towards the excessive concentration of wealth.
We should be promoting tax justice, ending competition and evasion, and implementing a Robin Hood Tax. It is good to see 11 countries making progress on a financial transactions tax, but why are the rest still putting the protection of fat cat financiers ahead of the interests of their people?
The ETUC opposes the destruction of the social model which served as an inspiration to workers in the rest of the world. Social rights should have priority over economic freedoms.
We support a European Union which promotes good jobs, decent wages, social progress and social justice.